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What Buddhism says about Coveting and Desires

Updated on December 16, 2010

Wanting is not the enemy of enlightment

  Nobody wants to be disappointed. Nobody wants to be tortured by unrealized dreams and desires. Desire and expectations can often leave us crushed. My mother’s advice was always, “Don’t get your hopes up.”

  Most religions will tell you that coveting is bad. They’ll say coveting is a trap that sucks us downward. Human existence is often seen as a seething whirlpool of desires, drives and impulses which give rise to vices and discontent. Some religions would maintain that the suppression of desires is the path to happiness. If you don’t want anything, you can’t be disappointed.

  Catholicism says it’s a sin to covet. There are a few anti-covet commandments. The message is ‘Get rid of your desires and you won’t suffer’.

  Buddha taught something different. He suggests that desires are a fundamental and necessary aspect of our existence. Buddha encourages us to use them as a force that will enhance our own lives. He knew that our passions drive us onward. After all, Buddha himself had a passion to learn and to spread what he had learned to others. Surely, that's not a bad thing!

The fine point here is to differentiate our fundamental desires from harmful things like greed. Greed is bad, as Enron proved. No one is advocating being greedy or selfish. But wanting things means having goals. It means having dreams and aspirations. Having a dream can be a good thing.

 Every goal and every quest is rooted in a desire to improve and evolve. This is what makes us alive. Shakespeare said that in apprehension, we are like angels; in action, we are like Gods. Our dreams define us.

  Would we be who we are without our driving passions? What would be left of us if every desire was exorcised from us? We are the sum of the many legs of our journey, and that journey is defined by where we want to go. "You can't cross the sea if you are afraid to lose sight of the shore."

  Without desire, possibly we could escape the disappointments of life but we would be empty and irrelevant, like a dried up stream. We need desire to want to go on living and accomplishing.

  Buddhist teacher Nichiren Daishonin did not urge people to dismiss or suppress their passions. He instead taught others how to use them as a driving force, toward evolution and enlightenment.

  To covet knowledge; friendship; love...These are not bad things, as long as they are kept in proportion. We should do as Thoreau said..."To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield!"


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    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      It's okay to want as long as you're not greedy or harming anyone, and as long as you don't allow disappointment to ruin your life. Wanting can be the beginning of an important goal.

    • profile image

      bbb 5 years ago

      better nor to want anything i reckon

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Very True, Da Munkeh; Excellent quote from Tenzin Gyatso.


    • Da Munkeh profile image

      Da Munkeh 6 years ago

      as Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama once said..."It is far more important that a man be compassionate than religious."

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Thanks for reading, HH.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      There are som every interesting points in the teaching of Budda. I anjoyed reading your hub.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      You're absolutely right. It's the thought process of the person who does the 'wanting' that determines whether it is bad or not.

      Thanks for reading.

    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 7 years ago

      Yes, I agree there are no bad or good things per se. It is the state of mind of the practitioner which dictates whether an action will be right or wrong. Thank you.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Right, that's exactly what I said. It's OK to want; as long as you're not so greedy or selfish about it that you lose perspective.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      As a cC I don't consider coveting the same as wanting something. coveting is an unreasonable desire. It is OK to want a new car. It is not ok to want it so bad that you would would be jealous of your neighbors car.